Recording of the Month

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Robert Baird Posted: Jun 28, 2012 Published: Jul 01, 2012 0 comments
Bill Evans: Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate
Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Marty Morrell, drums
Resonance HLP-2012 (2 LPs/2 CDs, HDTracks 24/44.1k download). 1968/2012. George Klabin, exec. prod., mix, sound restoration; Zev Feldman, prod.; Fran Gala, mix, sound restoration, mastering. ADA/ADD. TT: 49:12/40:50
Performance *****
Sonics * to ***

Complain if you will, analog lovers, about the evils of digital technology, but in one area there isn't a whiff of argument: the esoteric pursuit of rescuing live recordings with marginal sound. Without question, manipulating ones and zeros has cleaned up a lot of nearly unlistenable bootlegs. This bit of buried treasure, while never unlistenable, has been rendered in sound that is, at times, very good. The two-star sonics rating, which may seem shocking for a "Recording of the Month," is an average—while the sound quality rates a single star in the opening, it's nearly up to four stars by Disc 2. The long-ago sounds of these two live sets of the Bill Evans trio playing mostly standards, recorded in a long-gone Greenwich Village club, Top of the Gate (it was literally above the better-known Village Gate jazz club), are, if not the holy grail, then a very gilded cup.

Robert Baird Posted: May 29, 2012 2 comments
Krzysztof Penderecki/Jonny Greenwood
Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, Polymorphia, 48 Responses to Polymorphia
Aukso Orchestra, Penderecki, Marek Mos, conductors
Nonesuch 530223-2 (CD) Filip Berkowicz, Michal Merczynski, prods. Barbara Orzechowska, associate prod. Ewa Guziotek-Tubelewicz, Pitor Witkowski, engs. Performance ***** Sonics *****

For the past two decades, the "C" word in classical music— crossover—has been a bone of both hope and contention. Lured by the supposed riches that lurk amongst classical fans who want to slum it and popular music fans with upscale intellectual curiosities, artists from Caruso to Domingo to Joshua Bell have given in this concept in search of a success to mostly disappointing results. And then of course there's humble Gordon Sumner (aka Feyd Rautha Harkonnen) who blithely smeared his meager powers onto the work of poor John Dowland in Songs From the Labyrinth—an apt title if ever there was. In 2010 the great Renee Fleming, no stranger to taking risks and a jazz singer during her college years, dipped her toes, fairly disastrously it turns out, into the classical/rock crossover pool with Dark Hope, a record whose title again seems to carry a less than promising message.

Richard Lehnert Posted: May 24, 2012 Published: Nov 01, 1987 0 comments
Arvo Pärt: Tabula Rasa and Arbos
Tabula Rasa: Fratres (2 versions); Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten; Tabula Rasa
Gidon Kremer, Tatjana Grindenko, violins; Keith Jarrett, piano; Alfred Schnittke, prepared piano; Staatsorchester Stuttgart, Dennis Russel Davies, conductor; Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Saulus Sondeckis, conductor; cellists of the Berlin PO
ECM New Series 1275 (CD). Heinz Wildhagen, Peter Laenger, Eberhard Sengpiel, Dieter Frobeen, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. AAD. TT: 55:04

Arbos: Arbos; An den Wassern zu Babel; Pari Intervallo; De Profundis; Es sang for langen Jahren; Summa; Stabat Mater
Gidon Kremer, violin; Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, organ; The Hilliard Ensemble; Brass of the Staatsorchester Stuttgart; others
ECM New Series 1325 (CD). Peter Laenger, Andreas Neubronner, engs.; Manfred Eicher, prod. DDD. TT: 59:21

Richard Lehnert Posted: May 18, 2012 Published: Dec 01, 1987 0 comments
Wynton Marsalis: Marsalis Standard Time, Vol.1
Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Marcus Roberts, piano; Robert Leslie Hurst III, bass; Jeff Watts, drums
CBS CK 40461 (CD), FC 40461 (LP). Tim Geelan, eng.; Steve Epstein, prod. DDD. TT: 62:54

When someone has garnered as much hoopla as has Wynton Marsalis over the last five years, it becomes harder and harder for a critic to believe that the hype continues to be justified. Nor does winning Grammys in the jazz and classical categories help the situation's believability. Worse, Marsalis's own bristly demeanor and portentious pronouncements on the state of jazz—see "Book Reviews" elsewhere in this issue—make it all the more important that he put his money where his mouthpiece is. (As Miles Davis, never known as the soul of tact himself, groused a while back when leaving a Grammy Award ceremony at which Marsalis had held forth: "Who asked him?")

Thomas Conrad Posted: May 01, 2012 0 comments
Ryan Truesdell: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans
Ryan Truesdell, conductor; 35 musicians including those mentioned in text, plus: Scott Robinson, Charles Pillow, reeds; Greg Gisbert, trumpet; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Lewis Nash, drums
ArtistShare AS0114 (CD). 2012. Ryan Truesdell, prod.; James Farber, eng. DAD. TT: 74:18
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

It is dreamlike when the opening track, "Punjab," begins so softly, with the tapping of a tabla. Exotic woodwinds, perhaps English horn and bassoon, murmur in the left channel, whisper in the right. It is dreamlike because Gil Evans died in 1988, yet this unfamiliar music sounds like him, and when suddenly that deep, solemn brass figure looms out of the right channel, it could only be him. More instruments enter, and more motifs, with brighter colors from alto saxophone and flute. Like all the greatest Gil Evans music, "Punjab" creates its own world of high drama and mysterious allusion. It belongs in the exalted company of such Evans masterpieces as Out of the Cool and Sketches of Spain. And it is new.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Apr 26, 2012 Published: Jan 01, 1988 0 comments
Branford Marsalis: Renaissance
Branford Marsalis, tenor & soprano sax; Kenny Kirkland & Herbie Hancock, piano; Bob Hurst & Buster Williams, bass; Tony Williams, drums
CBS FC 40711 (LP). Dennis Ferrante, Bob Margoleff, Howard Siegel, engs.; Delfeayo Marsalis, prod. DDA. TT: 57:09

These are heady days for those who believe that jazz may have reached its height in the mid- to late '60s, before its disastrous 15-year romance with fusion. With such strong new talents as the Marsalis and Brecker brothers and Chico Freeman embracing the spirit of that time, and fusion-scarred veterans like Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson returning to the basics of acoustic trios, quartets, and quintets in recent recordings and concerts, jazz has attained a new and cherished seriousness valued all the more for its unexpectedness.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Apr 04, 2012 0 comments
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well
Tord Gustavsen, piano; Tore Brunborg, tenor saxophone; Mats Eilertsen, bass; Jarle Vespestad, drums
ECM 2237 (CD). 2012. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Jan Erik Kongshaug, eng. DDD. TT: 53:19
Performance *****
Sonics *****

The first time I heard J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, I heard an endless sameness, lovely but undifferentiated. Only over many hearings did each pairing of prelude and fugue begin to emerge from the background, as what Bach did in each iteration of the same received form began to be revealed as an inexhaustible richness of difference. Gradually, I was learning Bach's musical language; only then did I begin to get an idea of what he might be saying.

Bernard Soll Posted: Mar 22, 2012 Published: Feb 01, 1988 0 comments
The Moscow Sessions
Barber: First Essay for Orchestra; Copland: Appalachian Spring; Gershwin: Lullaby (for string quartet); Glazunov: Valse de Concert in D; Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla Overture; Griffes: The White Peacock; Ives: The Unanswered Question; Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina Prelude; Piston: The Incredible Flutist (ballet suite); Shostakovich: Symphony 1, Festive Overture; Tchaikovsky: Symphony 5
Lawrence Leighton Smith, Dmitri Kitayenko, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Sheffield Lab CD-1000 (3 CDs); TLP-1000 (3 LPs). CDs DDD. LPs AAA. TT: 180:40

The ecumenical collaboration between Sheffield Lab, the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conductors Lawrence Leighton Smith and Dmitri Kitayenko, an imposing gaggle of businessmen and bureaucrats, and partial sponsorship by The Absolute Sound's Fund for Recorded Music, if somewhat short of epoch-making, is, nonetheless, a positive example of free enterprise and socialism bedding down together, liberally (pardon the expression) lubricated with glasnost. Art, we are told, is universal. It transcends philosophical, racial, political, and religious differences of opinion. Yet, despite the implied altruism of this international cooperative effort, the actual genesis of the project was essentially pragmatic, fundamentally bottom line.

Robert Baird Posted: Mar 01, 2012 0 comments
Anthony Wilson: Seasons Anthony Wilson, Steve Cardenas, Julian Lage, Chico Pinheiro, guitars
Goat Hill Recordings 003 (CD/DVD). 2011. Anthony Wilson, prod.; Todd Whitelock, eng.; Damon Whittemore, asst. eng.; Kevin Gray, mastering; George Petit, live sound assistance; Steve Becker, Chris Scarafile, cameras. AAD? TT: 63:35
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

Halfway into the interview in his management company's offices, as Steve Earle literally squirmed in his seat, I got the distinct impression that he had somewhere else to go, something more important to do. Turned out he was anxious to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition Guitar Heroes: Legendary Craftsmen from Italy to New York. Suddenly, instead of talking about his career, he was rhapsodizing about the jazz-guitar luthiers—John D'Angelico and James D'Aquisto—whose work was being exhibited, and a display that featured one of the four guitars known to have been made by Antonio Stradivari.

Richard Lehnert Posted: Feb 22, 2012 Published: Mar 01, 1988 1 comments
Wagner: Lohengrin
Placido Domingo, Lohengrin; Jessye Norman, Elsa; Eva Randova, Ortrud; Siegmund Nimsgern, Telramund; Hans Sotin, Heinrich; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Heerrufer; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
London 421 053-1 (4 LPs), 421 053-2 (4 CDs). James Lock, John Pellowe, engs.; Christopher Raeburn, prod. DDD. TT: 222:54

It's always surprised me that Lohengrin, Wagner's most awkward, transitional, and static opera, was, for its first 100 years, his most popular. It didn't help, I suppose, that I began my study of things darkly Teutonic with The Ring and Tristan, working forward and backward from there. In Lohengrin we can hear the last reluctant pullings away from operatic conventions—especially choral—of the first half of the 19th century, and the gropings toward full-blown musikdrama—especially in Act II, scene i.

Robert Baird Posted: Feb 03, 2012 1 comments
Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis
Atlantic/Analogue Productions APP 8214-45 (two 45rpm LPs). 1969/2011. Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, prods.; Ed Kollis, eng.; Kevin Gray, 45rpm mastering. AAA. TT: 76:40
Performance *****
Sonics *****

Coaxing a singer to "stretch" always sounds like a good idea—that is, until the singer is standing in the same recording booth used by Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, and suddenly her confidence, never brimming to start with, drops through the floor and she can't or won't sing a note. Add to this that Dusty Springfield was already a sticky perfectionist who'd self-produced most of her records and wasn't happy with the songs to be recorded—despite the fact that most of them were straight out of the Brill Building—and you have the recipe for an all-time classic record, right?

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Jan 30, 2012 Published: Apr 01, 1988 0 comments
Beethoven: Sonata No.32, Op.111; Sonata No.21, Op.53 ("Waldstein")
Tibor Szasz, piano
Bainbridge BCD-6275 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 58:03

Mozart: Piano Concerto No.13, K.415; Overture to Lucio Silla, K.135
Jeremy Menuhin, piano; George Cleve, 1987 Midsummer Mozart Festival Orchestra
Bainbridge BCD-6273 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 36:58

Prokofiev: Alexander Nevsky, Lieutenant Kije
Andre Previn, Los Angeles Philharmonic
Telarc CD-80143 (CD). Jack Renner, eng.; Robert Woods, prod. DDD. TT: 63:37

Rachmaninov: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op.19
Steven Kates, Montagnana cello; Carolyn Pope Kobler, Bösendorfer piano
Bainbridge BCD-6272 (CD). Leo de Gar Kulka, eng. & prod. DDD. TT: 40:42

The Sounds of Trains, Vols.1 & 2*
Bainbridge BCD-6270, -6271* (CDs). Brad Miller, eng. & prod. DDD. TTs: 60:45, 50:14*

If you read my article in these pages about recording the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railway steam trains (January 1987, Vol.10 No.1), you may recall the mention of Colossus. Colossus is the name of a new digital recording system which designer Lou Dorren claims to be different from every other digital system in several ways, none of which has ever been disclosed to us. I had a chance to listen to some tapes made on it shortly after writing the C&TSRR article, but since they were made with a completely unfamiliar microphone (Mobile Fidelity Productions of Nevada's own design) and featured mainly the sounds of trains, airplanes, and other sources of potential ear damage, I couldn't really tell anything about the recording system, except that it had the kind of low end I expect from any respectable digital audio. A sonic evaluation had to wait until I heard Colossus on more familiar terms—that is, with music recordings. Now, that time has come.

Robert Baird Posted: Dec 29, 2011 Published: Jan 01, 2012 2 comments
Tom Waits Bad As Me
Anti- 87151-1 (LP). 2011. Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan, prods.; Julianne Deery, prod. coord.; Karl Derfler, eng.; Zack Summer, asst. eng. ADA? TT: 44:37
Performance *****
Sonics ****½

They only come out at night. Or when recession, wars, and gridlock rule. On Bad As Me, Tom Waits's first record of new material since 2004's Real Gone, things having gone bad all over gives his uniquely American narratives a fresh resonance: "Well we bailed out all the millionaires / they got the fruit, we got the rind / and everybody's talking at the same time / everybody's talking at the same time." ("Talking at the Same Time"). But lest anyone get the idea it's all politics and no licentiousness, the next track, "Get Lost," dives deep into loopy rockabilly slap beats as two of the three stellar guitarists who dominate this album, Marc Ribot and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), conjure a twitchily convincing froth over which Waits revels in the simpler pleasures of Wolfman Jack and "real tight sweaters."

Richard Lehnert Posted: Dec 29, 2011 Published: May 01, 1988 1 comments
Ry Cooder: Get Rhythm
Warner Bros. 25639 (LP). Ed Cherney, eng.; Ry Cooder, prod. TT: 40:43
John Hiatt: Bring the Family
A&M SP5158 (LP). Larry Hirsch, eng.; John Chelew, prod. TT: 45:26

There are a few white men in American music—Delbert McClinton, Jerry Jeff Walker, John Fogarty, Van Morrison, Joe Ely, and Steve Earle all come to mind—whose music is consistently true, believable, honorable, and unpretentious. Ry Cooder has been one of those names since his solo debut in 1970; with Bring the Family, John Hiatt's must now be added to the list.

Bring the Family is what Robbie Robertson's overrated new album should have been (sorry, Gary Krakow): simple, strong, mature, its feet rock-solid on the ground. "Thing Called Love," in fact, sounds much like the album The Band might have made between The Band and Stage Fright.

Robert Baird Posted: Dec 01, 2011 1 comments
Bill Frisell All We Are Saying . . .
Bill Frisell, guitar; Jenny Scheinman, violin; Greg Leisz, pedal steel guitar; Tony Scherr, bass; Kenny Wollesen, drums
Savoy Jazz SVY17836 (CD). 2011. Lee Townsend, prod.; Adam Blombert, prod. asst.; Adam Munoz, eng.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAD? TT: 68:12
Performance ****
Sonics *****

How do you escape the pressures that come with making a record of well-known John Lennon tunes, many of them from archetypal Beatles songs? Convene a quartet of longtime bandmates, each a skilled instrumentalist with whom you've played this material before—albeit not in a while—and just hang loose, let the ideas flow, and jam up beautifully recorded, feel-no-heat-from-the-classic-originals versions whose rough charms somehow seem exactly right. Oh yeah, and bring in pedal-steel wizard Greg Leisz to put an evocative, legato tang on the whole thing.

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